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Six big moments from Michael Cohen's Trump trial testimony

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LA Post: Six big moments from Michael Cohen's Trump trial testimony
May 15, 2024
Luc Cohen and Jack Queen - Reuters

By Luc Cohen and Jack Queen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testified at the former U.S. president's criminal trial this week, asserting he had Trump's "signoff" to buy a porn star's silence and undergoing a cross-examination by Trump's lawyers.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to falsifying business records to cover up Cohen's $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had in 2006. Trump denies an encounter. 

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche is expected to resume cross-examining Cohen, the star prosecution witness, on Thursday. Here are five milestones from Cohen's testimony so far: 

* 'Just do it'

Cohen testified on Monday that he had Trump's "signoff" to pay Daniels. He said he delayed transferring the money to Daniels' lawyer for weeks after inking a deal in October 2016, hoping to put it off until after the November election, until Trump ultimately instructed him to move forward.

"He stated to me that he had spoken to some friends, some individuals, very smart people, and that: 'It's $130,000. You're like a billionaire. Just pay it,'" Cohen testified. "He expressed to me: Just do it."  

* ‘Disaster for the campaign’ 

Cohen testified that Trump told him Daniels’ account would harm his campaign if released. Cohen in 2018 pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law with the payment, but Trump’s lawyers have suggested the payoff could have been intended to spare Trump and his family from personal embarrassment and not to boost his electoral chances.

The distinction is critical because prosecutors must prove Trump was fudging records to cover up a crime - such as an illegal campaign contribution - to win a conviction on felony charges.

“He said to me, 'This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me,'” Cohen testified, adding that Trump was polling poorly with women at the time. “Guys may think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.”

* ‘On the market’ 

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen if he spoke with Trump about how his wife Melania Trump would respond to Daniels’ story. Cohen said he had, and that Trump replied to him that he would not be “on the market” for long - implying he would bounce back if his marriage suffered. 

“He wasn’t thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign,” Cohen said. 

* Jury hears tape of Trump discussing payment. 

Prosecutors played a tape Cohen secretly recorded of a meeting he said he had with Trump on Sept. 6, 2016, when they discussed buying the rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of a yearlong affair with Trump from tabloid publisher American Media. 

“Pay with cash,” Trump can be heard saying on the tape. 

The tape could help prosecutors establish that Trump was involved in an alleged “catch and kill” scheme with Cohen and American Media chief executive David Pecker to pay off individuals with negative information about Trump for their silence during the 2016 campaign.

* Oval Office meeting

Cohen told jurors about a private conversation he had with Trump at the White House on Feb. 8, 2017, where he said Trump told him he would soon be receiving a check for the first two monthly installments of his bonus package which Cohen said included the reimbursement for the Daniels payment. 

"He asked me if I was OK, he asked me if I needed money, and I said, 'All good,'" Cohen testified on Tuesday. 

Prosecutors showed jurors a picture taken of Cohen in the White House to commemorate the occasion.

* 'Dictator douchebag' 

As part of his effort to undermine Cohen's credibility with the jury, Blanche asked Cohen on Tuesday about disparaging comments he made about Trump on social media. 

Cohen confirmed that while the trial was ongoing, he called Trump a "dictator douchebag" on TikTok and that prosecutors have repeatedly asked him to stop publicly commenting about the case.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jack Queen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

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